S1 Episode 2

[deanna_nwosu]: Today’s episode is a special one. We’ve got my friend Ashley Lawson from Achieve meetings and incentives. She is an intersection of everything we talk about on this show. She is an event planner, she is an avid traveler. She’s currently doing a year of travel and work from anywhere with her husband. and uh, this is a great episode. I love the conversation I have with her, so be sure to listen in where we dive into the backyard magic of working from the road.

[deanna_nwosu]: Welcome back. I am so excited for today’s episode. I’ve got a friend of the pod, me, the lovely, Uh, Miss Ashley Lawson from Achieve incentives, and I’m so excited to have my friend here. Uh to discuss all things experiences, events and travel. So actually I know all about you, but tell the listeners about who you are and what you do.

[ashley_lawson]: Well, I, yes, hello, everyone, and thank you so much for having me. My name is Ashley and I lead a team of the best Uh, incentive planners and event profs in the world. I think at achieve incentives, and I, I do so is. I am actually leading in my family’s footsteps. So our family started this company  seventy years ago and I was raised with an absolute love and passion and joy of learning about new cultures and bridging people together and building experiences that will forever be remembered. So, um, that’s kind of how I got started in the business and I actually have I learned my A B. C’s alphabetizing flight itineraries under my mom’s desk, so travel and events  has always been part of of my learning of my heartbeat. Um, and I, I absolutely love being a part of this industry.

[ashley_lawson]: My grandparents opened the company together. Uh, they fell in love. They met at the Cleveland airport and they watched all of the flights take off and wanted to be able to help other people explore the world as they watch the flights take off from the airports. So they opened up a travel agency, which soon and quickly led into an incentive firm that used travel as  a way to celebrate people.

[deanna_nwosu]: I just love that that your family literally started at an airport. Like how? how else can you say that it’s in your blood right?

[ashley_lawson]: I know I know

[ashley_lawson]: I grew up and my grandparents were always traveling Um on birthdays on holidays, so our our gifts were always like the uh, toiletry kits from the  flights or from hotels and it was like not very sexy at all. Um, but now I  appreciate it so much more.

[deanna_nwosu]: Absolutely, I totally get it. And Um, so I want to hear about, you know last  year was really rough for the meetings and incentives industry and your  company really focuses on Um. travel based incentives. you know, reward trips. Now, how did you guys initially respond to essentially being shut down and not being able to provide your mean service to clients?

[ashley_lawson]: Um, well, I think we kind of just continued doing what we always do, and as  as an event planning firm, what we do is support and protect our clients, and a lot of that came down to support with renegotiating contracts. And you know  we are negotiating millions of dollars of contracts on a daily basis all around the world, so we are very proud of all of the relationships that we have among our vendors, but also among our clients. So when travel just came  to a screeching halt, we we really just continue doing what we always do. You know, how can we make sure that we set up our clients for success? And Um, you know their everything was on pause or postponed. And as we are continuing to see lots of postponements, Um, so we really focused on. Okay,  how can we set up these programs for success? How do we postpone them? Um.  and that really launched, kind of my start into traveling in the pandemic, Because we had a client who needed to move a program back two years because  they already had Um. Their program scheduled for the following years and it  just required some in-person conversations, some wine, some finessing, And luckily we were able to move back this two million two million dollar contract because I went to Mexico and had those live conversations. Um, so that we kind of just continue doing what we always do. We, you know, obviously paused on the live planning, but we’re still focusing on supporting our clients, However they needed with the movement of the programs.

[deanna_nwosu]: Yeah, absolutely  I, I feel that even though Um, we were able to still meet you virtually and we found ways   still connect Um, certain aspects of face to face are even more appreciated now that we had that time where they were taken away, And as you said,  there’s some things that are just really better in person, so having those hard conversations obviously is going to be better with your partner when you’re there. With them, Um, as opposed to on a conference call or on a zoom  all, right,

[ashley_lawson]: absolutely.

[deanna_nwosu]: So that meeting with that with that partner kind of set off. Uh, a little adventure that you started. Um. Tell the listeners about your know, your safe travel, and kind of how that kicked off last summer.

[ashley_lawson]: yeah. so I, I had to go to Mexico to try to magically resolve this massive contract and I knew I had to go there, but I was actually terrified like this was last June. There was no information about traveling. There were no studies. case studies about. Um, you know, transmission isn’t really  happening on the flights. At that time, I was like I’m gonna get it. I am  going to bring it back to Cleveland. I’m gonna you know, infect my whole family. You know, I was just very worried about that whole experience ’cause  there was no information, so all I really could do was get mass and hand sanitizer, and I got to the airport early and that’s about as much as I knew.  Um. So then as I had that experience flying and being in the hotels and  experiencing kind of what Mexico had been doing to prepare for the return of  travel, I was just odd. It was just incredible. They were really going above and beyond anything I had seen domestically in the States, and I was just so impressed and you know, as as a an event planner as a leader in in our events  and incentive industry, a lot of a lot of what I love doing about our our, in our work is is shining a spotlight on the great things that are happening. So that’s really just what I started doing and started sharing what was happening at the airports when you landed in Mexico. Uh, you got temperature checked. There were monitors going, you know, as you walked by, sensing what your temperature was and it was fascinating. I mean, they were so advanced that if you walked by and you didn’t have a mask on, but your temperature was okay, you would have a yellow line around your body, And if your temperature was fine and you had a mask on, you would have a green line around your body you, they could easily track what was happening and you know just  potential symptoms. That could mean coved. Um, so I just started sharing everything I was seeing and it just kind of launched into this. You know what? I want to continue shining a spotlight on what our event and travel partners are doing to set us up for success when people are ready to travel and host events again. So that’s what I’ve been up to the past year.

[deanna_nwosu]: What I really appreciate about this journey you’ve been on and I myself have  traveled internationally, although much more recently, not as early in the pandemic as you did. Um, but I got to agree you step out of the United States,  and things are taken a little bit more seriously. There’s more um, safety precautions. there’s more, um, just the citizens following the rules and actually going by the guidelines and  less of the Uh. and I’m sure from country to country it varies. I’ve only been to Mexico and Spain, so I can only talk about that in comparison to here  in the U. S. and then the U. S. Have been primarily in Ohio and North Carolina, so I’m sure, depending on where you are in the world, that varies, but Um, in general, I think a lot of people were very fearful of international travel. for that you know. I do think there’s a little bit of propaganda sometimes that the U S is the safest place in the world, Just in general. And you know, for anyone who’s traveled internationally you do get a sense that some of that is true  and maybe some of it is a little overstated. Um, so I love that you mentioned  that. Um, And and can you also tell us you’ve got some stats in terms of  you’ve done a lot of covid testing a lot of flights. Like. what? What are your stats over the past year of this project,

[ashley_lawson]: my stats, Yeah, uh, so  yeah, so I was actually, as I was preparing for this podcast. I really need the numbers. I need to know the heck have I’ve been up to? Um. So I. I. I did a spreadsheet of everything and okay, So since last June, since I started  traveling last June, I have been to eight different countries and I say that I live in them.

[ashley_lawson]: I don’t just visit countries. I am staying in airbnbs. I am in the local neighborhoods. I am in hotels, Um, and I, and for me, as as  an event planner, as a a lover of culture and tradition and cuisine, and you  know all of the things that bring us joy and delight about travel Like it is all me. I love it and I, I only want. I want to learn it for me personally,  but I also want to give our clients and fellow even planners strategic guidance on how we incorporate that that local goodness into all of our  events. I think, uh, you know, I’ll go off at a little tangent here, but I  think I think we’ve done a disservice in the travel industry and event industry by not really soaking up and absorbing the local culture and infusing it into our events. Um, it takes work, it takes time, it takes research, but it’s it’s what we have to do because that’s that’s where the memories are created. That’s where the awareness is built. Um through the the real love happens, So I didn’t just want to visit places I wanted to live in them. I wanted to be immersed in them, so Um, in the past year I have lived in eight different countries. I have taken over forty five flights.  I have gotten thirty covid tests. I ha. the longest mass wearing experience I had was on a long haul flight from Cleveland to Kenya. For thirty one hours  straight. I was awake and wearing my masks, and through all of it the biggest  dead of all for me is that I’ve been coveed free through all of it,

[deanna_nwosu]: Round of applause, like that’s that’s a lot.  I don’t think people really understand and every country has their own standards. Every country has their own protocols for entry, So not only were you doing you know, these just regular  trip planning. but you also are having to incorporate. You know what are the rules everywhere I’m going, and I know in a couple countries shutdowns were happening in this the next city you were going to. So it was like an ever-evolving. Uh thing

[ashley_lawson]: yeah, yeah, yeah, and I, I. I. I have also planned and hosted events  internationally and I’ve led them. so I think the I, I’m a helper, even  though I, I come from the events and travel industry. I, My career actually  started in non profit, and I, I led a homeless services agency for ten years in D. C. And there is, I think there’s a crossover between you know, non- profits and events, because at the end of the day what we’re doing is we’re curating experiences. We’re trying to make things better for individuals and  you know they might be different demographics, your attendee versus somebody needing support from us or a homeless services agency. But at the end of the day it’s It’s all about radical hospitality and supporting people’s needs and  making them feel welcome. Um. So I, I’m a helper and I, I missed it. I missed helping, and when covet hid just took down all opportunities to like, truly  create experiences that that led to impact, Um. And you know a big mission of mine was to showcase more so to our event industry world, as that we need to be the leaders. Um, I can’t approach a client and say hey, you need to let’s  move forward with this program. You contracted with us. Um, if I haven’t done it personally for me, so I was a big advocate that we, as industry leaders as event planners, producers, creators, hotels, whoever is involved in our industry, we need to be the ones putting our feet on the ground and  experiencing it and sharing what was Act happening before we could ever tell  the rest of the world. Hey, let’s let’s move forward with these events because that’s not fair, like we can’t let our clients be the guinea pigs. We need to be the ones who are immersed in it in understanding the real landscape.

[deanna_nwosu]: Um, I love that. What kind of began as a work project you know? giving back to the industry has intersected with your personal life Because it’s not just you traveling you’re with your husband?

[ashley_lawson]: Yeah, yeah, he’s along for the ride.

[deanna_nwosu]: Now how did, tell me about how the conversation started from? you know last summer when you’re doing, you know your safe travel and your meeting with vendors, so it’s really related to your work into evolving to you and your husband traveling full time

[ashley_lawson]: oh, it was. It was a lot of conversations. I think they. to be totally honest, So he came with me to that that first time I traveled in June, because I was really scared. Um, he’s like I’m going to come with you. We’ll be okay together. Um, not like that’s going to fend us off from covid, but it just made me feel more comfortable being with him. Wh, what was great? So in Cleveland, we lived in an apartment building. We

 didn’t really have a. There was no door that we could walk outside. We couldn’t open our windows. You know. it’s like those old loft departments  that are, you can’t go anywhere and we were completely stuck in quarantine.

[ashley_lawson]: So then we go to Mexico, and I’m having all of these meetings. very safe meetings with our mask on. Um, and there were a few times like during the  work week, we could go and kayak during our lunch break. or you know we could be outside because you’re in a tropical destination. It’ it. you know it, we are safer when we were outside. So it it almost felt too. that like we could live a little bit more naturally when we were in the United States. One. we felt safer. Um, we knew we’ you know in a tropical destination and there were some things that we could still enjoy as a couple rather than just being in our closed in apartment So selfishly he was like, You know. this is. this is kind of okay. What if you know what about doing this? more? Um, as that on my side it was we need. I need to showcase what’s happening. There is such a fear of travel. And what I experienced is that I was safer in Mexico than in the United States. Um. and it just kind of, and I started writing blogs about. here’s how you travel. Here’s how you set up your event attendees for success. Here’s what you need to think about as you’re traveling.

[ashley_lawson]: Um, You know, we talk about empathy in this industry, but in a bigger way  than ever, we need to build in empathy to our communications. This is the first time our attendees are traveling for the first time. they’re scared, just like I was. Um. So it was just such a good learning environment for me. Um, and it just kind of said what if we did this full time and he tagged along. Ah, And you know I’m an event planner at heart. I know how to do logistics. I can do this. so we were like. Well, why don’t why don’t we just go big? Um, you know this, this could be a wonderful adventure. This could be a teaching moment for not just ourselves, but also as I’m sharing  with the industry and we just decided to leap and we leapt big and said Okay, let’s set a date. That was like the If you don’t set a date, If you don’t say it aloud it’s not going  to happen. So we said a date E.

[deanna_nwosu]: Oh, absolutely I agree.

[ashley_lawson]: Yeah, and then we said Okay, let’s start with our honeymoon, and ’cause we never had a honeymoon. It’d been years since we got married and just kept putting it off because of work and I was always on the road without him,  so we said Okay, let’s start with our honeymoon and then we will kick off  this work from the world adventure, and I will shine the spotlight on all the  great things, and you know all the not so great things to know about planning  in a pandemic, because we’re still here. Um, so that’s kind of the madness that kicked it off.

[deanna_nwosu]: right, as we were recording this, it’s Monday August second and it’s just all you see in the news is the swarm of the Delta variant, So hopefully by the time you guys listen to this uh episode things will be a lot more under control.

[ashley_lawson]: Mhm,

[deanna_nwosu]: But it’s so uh interesting that you mentioned your honeymoon because at the time that you guys keep off this trip, you’d been married going on two years, correct?

[ashley_lawson]: yeah.

[deanna_nwosu]: Yeah, now where was the honeymoon destination? I, I think how you kicked off this work from anywhere. No mad lifestyle is of the most epic proportion, so tell me  about how you landed on the location and how you kicked off this journey you guys are on.

[ashley_lawson]: okay. So uh, so I’m going to share. We went to Kenya, which seemed as I was thinking  about it like the most insane. Why in the world would anybody do long haul  travel in a pandemic? But I will blame it on our industry because I actually called a friend Nataly with E-Group Communications because she has. She had just planned an event in Jamaica, and I wanted to know about the conditions in Jamaica, because I’m on an industry board site Midwest, and we’ planning a program in Jamaica. So I was like this was you know last December. Like do I move forward with Jamaica? What do we do? Uh, So I was getting all the  insight from her and then I said, By the way, I’m trying to plan this honeymoon. Any ideas? and she said, Oh, well, I just talked to Mario with Liberty National DMC group. Why don’t you give him a call? So I give this guy Mario call. I’ve never met this guy before in my life, and he has ninety DMCs around the world, so he knows the landscape of you know what his DMCs are seeing, and he said Hey, why don’t you just come visit me in Kenya? I was like. what.

[deanna_nwosu]: you know, just down the street, Just so normal,

[ashley_lawson]: yeah, yeah, um, and it has, it has always been a lifelong dream of my husband  and I to go to Africa and go on a safari. And Mario has said, Here’s what you need to do. You need your PCR test. Our team will help you coordinate everything. You’re going to be outdoors the entire time. You’re  not going be interacting with humans. You’re going to be interacting with giraffes and elephants,  And I said, you know that sounds pretty safe to me. Uh, I, I like the sound of all of this. Um,

[deanna_nwosu]: Right

[ashley_lawson]: and then we just got to planning, and during all of this and and as we talk about emotional experiences and experiential emotions and everything that you’re building. Um, One of the things that was very exciting about planning  this and and very challenging is that it was a surprise for my husband. He had no idea what where we were going, So I, I had two weeks to plan this honeymoon to Africa  in a pandemic. Um, and he couldn’t know a single thing about it because I wanted it to be a surprise. And and he was game for that, So was there’s a lot that went into it. And uh, I. I. you can ask me any questions you want. If anybody wants to go to Kenya, I would say go right now. I, I’ll help you plan everything, but it was amazing.

[deanna_nwosu]: a way. I love using Um, my friends and family as guinea pigs for event strategies. I want to try out in person in real life, so I feel like this honeymoon was a perfect opportunity for reacquaint yourself with your planning muscle, because you know, as you mentioned, a lot of your programs had been postponed, so you basically got to pull all of your tricks out of the hat, and even maybe some you’ been saving for a rainy day, right,

[ashley_lawson]: yeah, and I, I’ve got to admit guys. I was a little rusty. Uh, but it slowly came back. Um, I mean, and there is so much that goes to the  logistics, Um. of traveled to Africa, and then you add the pandemic on top of  it. I mean, there, I had to book us appointments at to get the Yellow Fever  vaccine. Um, And that was that was just to be extra safe. Yellow fever is not required in Kenya, but it is required in Tanzania, and we were going to be on  the border of Tanzania. So I was being extra safe At the time. Yellow Fever vaccines were like out of production because the manufacturing company was getting renovated, so I had to go on a scavenger hunt to find Yellow Fever vaccine. Um. same with malaria pills. Um. you had to fill out a  health form to get into Kenya, but it wasn’t working online so it was kind of just like. Oh, my gosh, like every single thing that could be a challenged was doubly a challenge. Um, and I was also trying to build in the The Special Find experiences and figure out how to pack for both of us to Kenya, and then leaving from Kenya, we would start our work from the world journey.

[deanna_nwosu]: yeah, I think that’s interesting to note, because again you said you’re working from the world. You’re working remotely. You’re not able to pack tons and tons of stuff, but you’re also planning for this safari adventure, so talk a little bit about trying to keep the surprise. Keep the secret, but also make sure you have essentially your home in. you know your suitcases.

[ashley_lawson]: Yeah, and and speaking of suitcases, so Kenya caboshed the idea of suitcases  Yeah,  because we were traveling on these little prop planes to go to the different  lodges, and the prop planes don’t allow you to have hard back suitcases. So  you can only have soft sided bags.

[ashley_lawson]: So you know event planner me. I was like. Okay, I’m gonna, have this  rolling. You know, carry out. I’ll be able to smash everything in there for our whole life now. but no. I. I went from like event planner. carry on roller suitcase to full on backpacker. because we could only have soft-sided bags. Um, and then I had to figure out how so all of the safari lodges say you need to have like camel colored clothing because they don’t. It might affect how an animal might see you, and you’re supposed to blend in. A little bit more so like, How do I tell my husband? Okay, we need to get you camel colored safari shirts, which is like that’s a word. A safari shirt. You go into Amazon. And it’s like safari shirts. And you know that’s actually what you need. How do I say you need camel colored safari shirt without telling him that we’re going out a safari.  Um, so I ended up ordering a bunch of things, shoving it at my bag, putting some  of my clothing and his, so he wouldn’t know, Like what the difference was,  I and I was trying to think. how could I add surprises throughout our travel journey. You know, we were on a plane in in airports for thirty one hours to  there. So I had come up with some ideas and we were laying over in Germany, And when we got to Germany, I told him that we were there. We we had come to our chalet and we were going to rent clothing from a tailor in a  chalet, because we didn’t have any warm clothing and he’s like. Well, how are we going to stay warm in Germany? I was like, Ah, I got it covered. I got  a tailor. I’d like totally made that up. Oh, oh, then yeah, yeah, I know. I know. I felt like a parent on Christmas or

[deanna_nwosu]: your imagination was stretched to the max.

[ashley_lawson]: something, trying trying to keep it a secret. Um,

[deanna_nwosu]: Basically

[ashley_lawson]: yeah, and then I had a, you know, I had stepped safari hats deep into the  bottom of bags, and Um, I got the little animal cracker cookies.

[ashley_lawson]: So when we were actually ready to get on the flight to Nairobi I, we were in the same boarding area because I didn’t want him to see. But then I gave him  the animal cracker box and I was like Here’s a hint. He’s like. What is this? then? I was like. Well, what do you think this means? Um,  and he guessed he’ Like. Are

[ashley_lawson]: we going out of safari? Yes, there? yeah. yeah. yeah.

[deanna_nwosu]: we’re going to the circus.

[ashley_lawson]: Ah, so it was? Uh. It was all about like the you know, all the tiny ways to make it a surprise. And I, it kind of made me want to work with clients and do surprise trips. because there was so much excitement and build up that you have no idea what’s happening. Like how do we retool this and do this for events and incentives? Because, especially like it’d be  wayer if you could charter a plane which I know requires a lot of budget. But uh, it was a little challenging to like hide the tickets, and like know where he’s going, So  so yeah, so it it it was. It was blast

[deanna_nwosu]: That sounds awesome.  

[ashley_lawson]: and definitely pulled in all of my my planning muscles to make it happen.

[deanna_nwosu]: Now that’s like a life that’s like a bucket list item for me  is for someone to plan a surprise trip for me. right? like how awesome for your husband that all these little hints  and tips along the way, Um for hi to be like, Oh, we’re going to Kenya. Like, Can you  imagine? Um? so yeah, it’s kind of like Hey, boyfriend, mom and dad, best  friend, I take. No, you know my fortieth is in a couple of years. Hint, hit,

[ashley_lawson]: Oh yes. okay, tell them to give me a call.

[deanna_nwosu]: wink, wink, you know.  absolutely. It’s like I, my girl. Actually, she’s got it down. She knows how  to do surprise trips and incentives. She’s all. she’s all set. so you start

[ashley_lawson]: Yeah, okay, what’s on your bucket list? By the way,

[deanna_nwosu]: Oh, in terms of location,  oh, I, Australia is on list. I wouldn’t say it’s bucket list item. But it’s definitely a place I want to go, um, um. In terms of Africa, It’s between Kenya, in South Africa. in

[ashley_lawson]: Mhm,

[deanna_nwosu]: terms of where I want to go, Um. And see, my mom has done much mission trips in Kenya, so she’s trying to get me to go on one with her. Um, I think the country that’s very high on the list that I just really want to  get to is Colombia, And I know you went there and I was drooling over all your pictures, But Um, and a friend of mine, you  know, he’s been there a good five or six times and he just loves the country, so that’s definitely pretty high on the list. Um, I would say, but but yeah,

[ashley_lawson]: Okay, well, you let me now. I’ll help. However I can.

[deanna_nwosu]: I think the biggest. I think. I think the biggest bucket list item is, I want to go internationally. Doesn’t matter where, but I want to travel like first-class international. I haven’t experienced that like once in my life.

[ashley_lawson]: yeah. Yeah, Yeah, and I would say there are some sneaky deals now. Um, so be depending on the locations that you’re going. If it’s a less a lesser known destination, they’re you. It’s you can buy the flights and then pay for the upgrades and it’s way cheaper than buying the first class ticket out front, so we’ve been seeing a lot of good deals.

[deanna_nwosu]: nice, nice. Now you kicked off this year of or I don’t know, do you guys have you set an end date in mind for this lifestyle? or is it just you know until the urge comes to come back to Ohio.

[ashley_lawson]: Well? we initially said we were doing it for a year and it’s been an  absolutely incredible experience so far, Um, I mean we. We like to say that  our our lunch breaks and our evenings and our weekends are our vacation. So that has definitely been uh, just wild in what we’ we are able to do. It’s also exhausting because we like to pack everything in, but we’re still living like normal lives in that we’re working, you know, nine hours a day, sometimes more for me. Um, so it’s it’s a lot to pack in, but it’s been awesome. Um, I mean yesterday we’re in Antigua, Guatemala right now and yesterday we hiked up a volcano that was active. We, um, uh, roasted marshmallows on lava. So it’s been it’s I mean. it’s it’s wild that I can say that was my Sunday. Um, and it’s awesome and lovely and very  privileged to be able to do that. Um, so I think it’ll It’ll be hard to put an end in, but I think next year we’ll probably find just a more stable, more stable location just because the you know moving it’s It’s constantly being an event planner for our life, because there’s logistics for everything and it does take up a lot of energy and time to to manage the lifestyle, So it will be nice to to be a little bit more stable next year.

[deanna_nwosu]: Yeah, absolutely I. I can only imagine what that’s like in terms of you know a new home every month, So you know you’re a pretty avid traveler. Prior to all this, I’m sure your husband as well. What’s what? do you find? The biggest difference about living on the road as opposed to you know going on a trip.

[ashley_lawson]: Oh, I just love it so much. I think I talk about like there’s backyard magic when you live in the world, versus being at a hotel. and you know, for for my event industry friends I, they know, I support the hotel industry as much as I can, but I, I really prefer the airbnb life, Um, from a personal perspective, because it’s there’s a difference when you have a a bed and breakfast or an airbnb host. Like there’s the you build a different kind of relationship then you would build at a hotel. you know, And when you’re at a hotel, people are there to serve you. They’re there to tend to your every need. And it’s it’s not an equal relationship because they are there to serve you.

[ashley_lawson]: Whereas when you are literally living in  someone’s backyard, you are now a part of their home. You get to hear about their life in their family. And like we’re staying at this little airbnb right now, Um, and the mom runs it, and her son and her daughter are the  drivers, Because we have to get down to the volcano to get into the town because it’s you know, too hilly to walk down. Um, her friend makes the  breakfast. Ah, so like you start, you’re part of the community in a different way and it’s no longer about being served. It’s you. You’re on the same plane of they. You know it. Their joy is to host much similar to it to a hotel, but it’s in a different way because you’re in their backyard and I just think like across this past year we’ve been in backyards in Mexico, in Belize, in  Columbia and Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, now in Um, Guatemala, And like, we’re literally having campfires with people who are local here and meeting their kids and learning about their history. And that’s that’s what I love. That’s what is so exciting about travel to me because that’s where the when you learn something new. That’s where there’s just such a beautiful awareness And it’s just it’s so much fun. Um. and you take that back with you And that’s  that’s what we have loved. And you know we’ve been in in a mix. I’ve   stayed in. I did the numbers on this one. I’ve stayed in eighty five different beds over the past year and they’ve all been wonderful, Um, but it’s that I. I say that’s it’s the backyard magic that when you live in a destination and you are part of the  locals and you’re going to the local authentic, typical restaurant and not the one that’s on. you know, yelp’s highest ratings Like that’s when you learn about local life and you and you saw the same in Mexico.

[deanna_nwosu]: Yeah, it’s so funny because being a tourist sometimes. Sometimes you feel this, kind of um. I want to  say hypocritical, but I don’t want to go where the tourists are, right, but I mean honestly, if you, if you’re going out of the country, don’t you want to experience how the people in that country live right? you’re not going to get that um in certain pockets that are super um, expat, heavy, or very um tour? A tourism industry focused.

[ashley_lawson]: yeah, yeah,

[deanna_nwosu]: You know, now you mentioned all these Araban Ds. You stayed in all these beds you’ve slept in. Tell me about, like maybe one place that you stayed, or even one of the airbnb owners that just really had a memorable impact on you.

[ashley_lawson]: oh, my goodness. there’s so many. Um, I would say my favorite and this was totally unexpected and as we know emotional  experiences, the ones that are unexpected are awesome and they’re typically  like the best. Bece Serenipity is just like so unexpected. It’s like Wait what. Um, But we. So we were in Cartagena Columbia, and we had flights to go to Medellin, and the day or flight the day before our flights to medicine, and we had everything you know. Had the flights set the airbnb being the day before  Medellin shut down, and basically said, If you you cannot come here if you are walking down the street, you have to have a permit from the government to  even be walking on the street. That’s how strict their Covid policies were and I totally credit them for doing it because honestly it was the week after  Semana Santa, and in Columbia, Semana Santa. The Easter celebration is huge and unfortunately there were a lot of covet cases that resulted in the gatherings, and

[ashley_lawson]: Um, the all the emergency rooms were on wait list, so it was the only  choice that they had to try to control the you know, their safe  environment. So I. I totally credit any countries that are having strict protocols because it is because cause they are trying to protect their people and anybody who is coming to their environment in their country. Um, so Medellin shut down and we were like, Holy crap. What do we do? Uh, we don’t have anywhere to go. I mean when you’re a nomad, you only plan like basically a trip at a time. Um, So then I was able to find uh, an airbnb and coffee country, which we weren’t planning on going to, but we did so. we got  rerouted our flights to Peda, and went to Coffee Country and drove to this farm. Basically, and there was a Colombian guy who was the name was Philippe, and he welcomed us to his A B and B. And it, it kind of felt like a motel. Kind of it was Def. What’s funny about it is that it was our favorite air B, m B experience, But it was like the worst living conditions we’ve had And isn’t that crazy?  Like how you know? Like I got into the shower. The

[deanna_nwosu]: You know I, I’ve got a story from Mexico. Similar.

[ashley_lawson]: okay, I want to. I wanna hear yours after this. Um, but like I got into the  shower, and  and like I don’t, I don’t need a five star hotel like I’ve shared. Like I like my a B and B experiences. I’d much prefer to be at the Abian B. But I got into that shower and it was like there was a tarantula in the corner of the shower and you know like you’re on the top of. I mean, you’re on the top of nowhere,  in the middle of like forests and everything in Columbia, and it’s there. Yeah, there’s a lot of critters. There’s a lots. Um, so I saw that and I was like, Oh, maybe I just won’t shower today. Uh, So we were there for a week. I mostly didn’t shower. Um. and the bed was like the most rickety bed, So like we didn’t shower. We didn’t sleep because it wasn’t comfortable. but the hosts were just like the best.

[ashley_lawson]: Um, so Philipe and his girlfriend, Annie, Uh, who was from Sweden, so we got to learn about their life and had lots of camp fireres in the backyard. They had dogs. We got to meet their dogs and   their  and campfire in back yard. they had dog dog, and cats, and like that’s definitely something you miss being on the road. You don’t get to like snuggle up to something furry. Uh, so we got to meet to their dogs Down the street was their friend who was starting his own restaurant. But he just had basically a little hut. so I talked to him and said, Hey, what do you think about making lunch for us every day? You know we’re working. We can’t really go out. Um, so he, the the chef, his wife and his little toddler would drive up on their little motorcycle every day and bring us soup and chicken and rice and it was just like the best food we had  in Columbia. Um, and then I had. I had been seeing all these like nineteen forties war jeeps that are in Columbia and they’re actually from the United States, and they got brought down to Columbia, And they are essentially why  the coffee business in Columbia has grown so fast, Because the  hills in Columbia are  intense. It’s just so rugged and rig rigid that if they didn’t have these nineteen Forties war ready  jeeps that can handle all terrain,

[deanna_nwosu]: nice

[ashley_lawson]: their coffee business never would have been able to blossom. but they also used  these jeeps as taxis. So you get on the back of the jeeps, and Um, you know, Safe Travel Ambassador hat on like, I like my open air vehicles, So the  Philips set us up with his friend who had a Willi. They called the Nineteen Forties Jeeves Willies, and that’s how we would get around town. Um, and it was just like around house,  it was that pure backyard magic and it was fantastic.

[deanna_nwosu]: Mhm, backyard magic, I think that should be the title of this episode, right?

[ashley_lawson]: Yeah, and yeah, and I think you know, with as as event planners, you know, we, we have to have structure when it comes  into how we create experiences that are forever remembered and and do have culture and authenticity to them. And it’s you know, being able to experience  these things, I get to imagine how I bring them to that structured event, And that’s what I have loved so much because often times like that leisure side of travel in that group set of travel, they’ they’re not the same. You know, I can’t take an incentive trip where the award winners have spent a year, you  know, surpassing their biggest goals, and take them to a tiny boutique hotel of six rooms where I would love. So it’s you know how, everything that I’ve  been learning through my my backyard magic moments, How do I reincorporate  those into those more structured group experiences so they get to leave with that those same moments and memories that I got to as well,

[deanna_nwosu]: I? I just love it. It’s it’s funny because you know, as you mentioned that experience it wasn’t the best Airbnb wasn’t you know you know wasn’t like a five star experience in terms of what you say, but a lot of what we seek. Those of us who curate experiences who travel. Um, who just want to gather with other people and connect. That’s something you’ll never forget. We’re essentially  memory seekers, Right because you can’t take the money with you, you can’t take people with you right. The only thing that the end of the day that we’ll  have at the end of our life is our memories. So the fact that hey, even even the situations that aren’t  necessarily ideal, you have the best memories from Um. I’ll tell you about

[ashley_lawson]: yeah,

[deanna_nwosu]: my Mexico story. now, So um, I went with two girlfriends and uh, we shared an air, B and b. and Um, we, we settled on this one because it had three separate bedrooms and three  separate bathrooms, so it was like, Oh, we’re three women. We’t have to share a bathroom, but won’t be, you know, taking forever for us to get ready everyday. Um, and it had a pool right. Well, one thing we didn’t account for was  that it was spring in Mexico, in Merida, and there was this huge Neem tree outside so the pool was disgusting every day just because of the debris  from the tree, Ray, and they didn’t have you know again, American. You.  Sometimes you take that mindset They don’t have pool filters, so you have to manually clean it out every day, and so the pool was not used. Um, The second thing was we didn’t realize from the Airbnb photos, so put your planner hat

[ashley_lawson]: Mhm, Mhm, Mhm, Mhm, Mhm,

[deanna_nwosu]: on folks, and make sure you really look at the photos. You really read the  reviews, because sometimes there might be hidden things that you’re not  realizing. But Um, two of the bedrooms and one of the bathrooms only had outdoor access, Meaning I stay in the bath. The bedroom I stayed in to get in and out of it. The door  was outside, and the same thing with my bathroom. So if I had to get up in the middle of the night, I had to walk outside and that was not really ideal. And because of that, you know “la cucarachas”, they’re very the very popular in Mexico, And because of the indoor outdoor vibe we had we. we, we stayed with lots of cucarachas. and Um, the funniest thing was the funny thing. The funniest thing was we had a terrible time with the front door all week. Um, it was one of those that like locks with the key inside and outside and it was hard to get it open to leave. It was hard to get it open to come in. It was just every time we had problems  with that door, and our last day me and my friend we were packing up  their suitcases with in our uh taxi to go to the airport, and sure enough, the door locked us out and we had some stuff

[ashley_lawson]: Oh, no,

[deanna_nwosu]: in there and it it was like the. This was like the perfect set. It was a perfect send off from this air, b and B right, that, of course, on our way out, that is this what we doing with? So we’re like crap. How are we going to get in there and this is Mexico, So all the homes are attached right. They’re not like single family like detached homes, and so fortunately, the little abuelita that we’d seen outside next door all week she was and I’m like you know, and I use my super broken Spanish like “por favor”, “necesito ayuda”  like you know, can we can we come in your house And you know I had to scale

[ashley_lawson]: no,

[deanna_nwosu]: the wall and climb and jump over. And until my friend, my friend, she’s like watching, just watching from the airbnb, watching me like scale this wall, And like you know, it was like A. I don’t know, maybe like eight foot wall. So I was kind of nervous Like on the way down, Am I going to break  something right? But I, you know, I landed like a cat and I was like I’m in, because the um. I basically landed in the courtyard and so like that door was always unlocked because there was  no lock on it right, so it was just we died laughing on the way out ’cause it was like. Of course, that’s the experience we have on the way out of this place. So it’s like we hated. I hated that Abram Be. it’s like the least favorite one I’ve ever stayed in. I wrote a review to match it, however, like we

[ashley_lawson]: Yeah,

[deanna_nwosu]: have the best memories and we just keep like this was like three months ago  and we just every time I talked to my best friend we talked about. But remember you were climbing over the wall and she was like. All I saw was you’d like. Oop. and she was like Yes! and I’m like I made it. We’re in. You know it was like deaf Con five. So um,

[ashley_lawson]: I love that.

[deanna_nwosu]: it’s just so funny that you – you don’t, you don’t know when the backyard  magic is going to happen. But if you go out and seek it, you’ll find it right.

[ashley_lawson]: Yeah, yeah, absolutely

[deanna_nwosu]: All right. Actually, I’ve loved this chat. I got one more question for you and that’s if you could pick a song to really encapsulate this experience of, you know, living on the road for the year or even one of the experiences you’ve had. What song would it be?

[ashley_lawson]: Oh gosh, that’s so hard. Ah, you should have prepared me for this one.

[deanna_nwosu]: I know. Right.

[ashley_lawson]: The thing is okay, So RnB is my favorite and I’m trying to think. Oh, jeeze.  so there’s this song? Is there? Hold on? I’m you know what? I just I. I just feel like Hakuna Matata is the only song that works the best

[deanna_nwosu]: well, you know what I feel like. I. I feel like it speaks to that. you’re  going in a different country. There’s COVID protocols, and just like you don’t know? Just let go and and take what comes. So Yeah, who couldn’t have thought I like that, and you started with a safari in Kenya, So that is kind of a perfect song for it.

[ashley_lawson]: Exactly! That’s what I was thinking. So I love to learn and this is something I, I highly recommend everyone as you travel, whether you’re an event planner or not, like. get to know some of the local words. Like one of my favorite things to do is learn words in in other languages and Swahili. You know when you if, you ever go to Kenya, when you go, I know you’re going to go because I’m going to help make it happen. Um, you have to watch the Lion King beforehand because, a lot of the Swahili words are the names in Uh, in The Lion King and it’s just it’s just so fun to learn the different words in languages and the locals love that you’re trying to, you know, trying to connect with them on that level, too. Simba means, means lion.

[deanna_nwosu]: Absolutely I am, I’m so glad to have had you one today. I feel like we could talk for like two more hours, but you know we both have day jobs. We got to

[ashley_lawson]: Yes,

[deanna_nwosu]: get back to Um. Ashley, Let the listeners know where they can find you on your socials where they can find Achieve.

[ashley_lawson]: absolutely so. Achieve Incentives and meetings is my company. We’ve got an awesome team of planners and logistics mavens, Uh, and you can find us on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, and then my personal travels. All of my safe travels are on Instagram at Ashley Rose on the road and things that I focus on. You know, I always highlight the best safety protocols in each country I’m going to. I also share more about the local experiences and how you can infuse them into events. Um, and I love to shine a spotlight on awesome hospitality leaders and different social impact experiences that you can incorporate into events as well, because I think we need to make meetings matter. and that is, you know how you make those experiences last forever is when we get to make that mutual impact together wherever we’re traveling to

[deanna_nwosu]: absolutely one hundred percent. Thank you so much, friend. it’s good to have you on and Um, backyard magic. Let’s go and make some in our lives right

[ashley_lawson]: see, ya mi amiga.

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